- Simon Schama - University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University.
Photo credit: By Financial Times (Flickr Uploaded by January) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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“A true believer is someone who will kill you for your own good.”
One of the reasons the world feels so out of joint at the moment is that millions of people appear to have forgotten the lessons from the unspeakable horrors of human history…the wars, the pogroms, the paroxysms of rage. As a result, they have forgotten one of the major achievements of liberal constitutionalism. The idea is a simple one but infinitely difficult to make habitual. When we the people choose to live together in a liberal constitutional democracy anywhere in the world what we have is a thin agreement not a thick one. The liberal constitution embodies a framework consensus…nothing more. We agree on the basic rules for living together in the same political community and how governments will be both constituted and replaced, their powers are enumerated and so on.
In other words, to live together in a liberal constitutional democracy we don’t have to worship the same Deity. We don’t have to agree on how life ought to be lived in detail. We don’t have to belong to the same ethnic group or tribe or nation. Again, our agreement is a basic one, not deluxe, not super-sized. We agree to let each individual human being of full age and competent understanding to make her own way in the world, work out how best to live her life, what Deity to worship or not, whether to circumcise her son or not…and so on. This simple idea is a powerful one. It is: live and let live. And it has produced decades of peace in many political communities, and it has provided room for a superabundance of human flourishing and development.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability, and Conflict
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Renewed and expanded international collaboration to anticipate and prepare for recurring storms of food insecurity is essential. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Syria are examples that vividly underscore the explosiveness of situations in which people find themselves unable to get the food they want and need. The experiences of post-conflict countries highlight some critical issues that need to be prioritized in order to regain sustainable food security. Averting future storms will require the recognition that food security challenges will extend long beyond 2030, political leadership must be visibly committed to these issues, and actions to reduce fragmentation of effort will be critical.
World Radio Day
RADIO remains the most dynamic and engaging mediums in the 21st century, offering new ways to interact and participate. This powerful communication tool and low-cost medium can reach the widest audience, including remote communities and vulnerable people such as the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor. Radio offers these communities a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of their educational level. It provides an opportunity to participate in policy and decision-making processes, and to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expression. The impact of radio is at different levels: it is an essential tool in times of disaster management as an effective medium to reach affected people when other means of communication are disrupted; it is a way of promoting gender equality by providing rural women access to knowledge and support; finally, it is inclusive, engaging youth in the media as catalysts of change.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights and needs to be addressed worldwide by citizens, community organizations, local, and federal government agencies, as well as international organizations and civil society groups. Child marriage cuts across borders, religions, cultures, and ethnicities and can be found all over the world. Although sometimes boys are subjected to early marriage, girls are far more likely to be married at a young age.
This is where we stand today: in developing countries, 1 in every 3 girls is married before the age of 18. And 1 in nine girls is married before turning 15. Try looking at it this way: the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that if current trends continue, worldwide, 142 million girls will be married by 2020. Another prediction from a global partnership called Girls Not Brides suggests, that if there is no reduction in child marriages, the global number of child brides will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.
Why is this such a critical issue? Child marriage undermines global effort to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity, as it traps vulnerable individuals in a cycle of poverty. Child marriage deprives girls of educational opportunities. Often times, when girls are married at a young age, they are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk of death due to early childbirth. According to the World Health Organization, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls globally.
In order to raise awareness about child marriage in the Middle East, a Lebanon-based organization, KAFA, produced this video as a social experiment.
Source: KAFA Lebanon
Katy Oswald, Research Officer in the Power and Popular Politics cluster, and an affiliate of the Governance and Gender and Sexuality clusters, discusses the meaning of "engaged excellence" in research.
Over the last year, amidst the rising tide of populist politics around the world, we have increasingly seen research and evidence dismissed as irrelevant, disconnected, or an unnecessary luxury. 'Truth', 'experts' and their advice are rejected in favour of media spin, emotional appeals or so-called self-evident 'facts' (or indeed lies, masquerading as 'alternative facts'). This post-truth move requires a response that doesn't just reassert the value of academic ivory towers. For the specific context of international development at least, we at IDS argue it requires 'engaged excellence'.
What do we mean when we say engaged excellence? Isn't it just another buzz phrase within development, and do we really need another buzz phrase? No it's not, it is a call to transform the way in which we work. It is, an attempt to capture a way of doing research that is different and could be transformative. It is a phrase that describes research that is directly involved in the real word, not separate or abstract from it. Importantly, it implies that the high quality of our research (excellence) is dependent upon it linking to and involving those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see (engaged).
We have identified four pillars that underpin the concept of engaged excellence: high quality research; evidence that makes an impact; knowledge that is co-constructed with others; and enduring and mutually dependent partnerships. An important point is that these pillars are mutually dependent, they cannot exist in isolation from each other.
Social Network Analysis has been cropping up a bit in my mental in-tray. First there was my Christmas reading – Social Physics, by Alex Pentland. Then came yesterday’s post from some networkers within Oxfam. So here are some additional thoughts, based on a great guide to SNA by the International Rescue Committee.
Complexity and Systems Thinking seems to push people into two divergent sets of conclusions. One camp says ‘planning and toolkits suck, stick to close observation and response to any given context, and work from instinct, judgement and fast feedback’.
Another group cries ‘whoopee, a whole new set of toolkits!’ The problem with the first is how to ensure rigour and accountability, when everyone is just taking decisions according to their ‘instinct’ (what if someone’s instinct is disastrously wrong?) The problem with the second is that it can create exactly the kind of alluring but false certainty that complexity and systems approaches criticise elsewhere (logframes etc).
I lean towards the first group, with qualms, but like to keep an eye on the second, both to see if it is being oversold, and in the hope that it really does contain the seeds of a more rigorous approach to complexity. Social Network Analysis (SNA) looks like one of the most promising type 2 approaches. I’ve been worried that it is primarily being conceived as a tool for big guys with a lot of resources (see this post on Ben Ramalingam’s work, which prompted an impressive set of comments), so I was happy to come across the IRC’s excellent ‘SNA Handbook’, which provides a practical guide that seems well suited to NGO capacities.
“I think it is the coming together of liberal arts and sciences that are going to keep the human creativity and ingenuity [alive] in an age where machines are intelligent.”
- Satya Nadella - Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft.
Quoted in Financial Times print edition January 30, 2017 "The Monday Interview"" by Madhumita Murgia.
Photo credit: By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The International Legal Framework
A significant number of current conflicts involve non-state armed groups (NSAGs) that exercise control over territory and civilians. Often these civilians are in need of assistance. International humanitarian law (IHL) provides that if the party to an armed conflict with control of civilians is unable or unwilling to meet their needs, offers may be made to carry out relief actions that are humanitarian and impartial in character. The consent of affected states is required but may not be arbitrarily withheld. Once consent has been obtained, parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief operations. In responding, humanitarian actors must overcome numerous challenges, including insecurity arising from active hostilities or a breakdown in law and order, or bureaucratic constraints imposed by the parties to the conflict.
Measuring the Business Side: Indicators to Assess Media Viability
In times of digital transformation media all over the world have to come up with new ways to ensure their survival. Meanwhile, media development actors are searching for new concepts and orientation in their support of media organizations and media markets. This paper presents DW Akademie’s suggestion for new indicators to measure economic viability. The criteria not only take into account the financial strategies and managerial structures of individual media outlets, but also the overall economic conditions in a country as well as the structures of the media market needed to ensure independence, pluralism and professional standards. After all, money talks – and media development should listen.
Let’s face it, it’s been a while, a long while, since we’ve all seen a 20-something who isn’t glued to their smartphone. This has been such a common sight everywhere now that we instantly picture a millennial with their cell phone, most likely checking their social media for updates.
So with that in mind, I can almost certainly say that you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s actually the previous generation, Gen X who use social media more copiously than their successors, Gen Y or millennials.
A week has 168 total hours out of which Gen Y spent 26 hours and 49 minutes on media, which is about 5 hours less than Gen X. In fact, out of the total weekly amount of time spent online, those between the ages of 35-49 spent more time on social media than their predecessors.
Are you surprised by this fact? Why do you think Gen X spends more time on social media than the millennials? Leave us a comment below & share your opinion.
Not a likely headline in today’s world, and yet this is among the most important news in recent history. Since Homo sapiens appeared on the planet, societies have experienced steady progress on all issues related to their wellbeing: access to food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom and equality. More importantly, progress in the last two centuries has accelerated to the point that the great majority of humans today live longer, better, healthier and richer lives than did their parents and grandparents.
“Progress” is indeed the title of the recently published book by Swedish author Johan Norberg. In it, and after building and analyzing a robust set of metadata compiled from the OECD, the World Bank, UN agencies and other reliable sources, he concludes categorically that “by almost any index, things are markedly better now that they have ever been for almost everyone alive.”
Some examples. Norberg points out that harvests failed frequently in Sweden in the 17th century, and a single famine between 1696 and 1697 killed one in 15 people. There were even some accounts of cannibalism. As economies in Europe grew, per capita consumption of calories increased from around 1,800 in the mid-18th century to 2,700 in 1850. Famines disappeared, and Sweden was declared free from hunger in the early 1900s. But progress is not circumscribed to Europe. Globally, undernourishment fell from 50 percent of the world’s population in 1945 to about 10 percent today. Similarly, access to water and sanitation has increased steadily in its coverage, going from 50 percent to 92 percent in terms of access to clean water, and from 25 percent to 68 percent in terms of sanitation in the last 50 years. The consequence is the removal of one of the main sources of death and disease.